New Braunfels Herald Zeitung (Newspaper) - January 16, 1983, New Braunfels, Texas
Ten years later, debate still rages
WASHINGTON (AF) - It began with an unmarried woman, known only as "Jane Roe,” who was too poor to leave Texas to end her unwanted pregnancy. So she stayed home and gave birth. Then she challenged the state law that outlawed the abortion she would have preferred.
Jane Roe didn’t know it when she went to court, but she was setting off a social earthquake that is still shaking America IO years later.
It was a decade ago that Justice Harry Blackmun, a quiet, meticulous conservative from Minnesota, used Jane Roe’s appeal to write the Supreme Court’s majority opinion legalizing abortion. He said it was "a no-win case.” and he was right.
Since the court’s ruling, by a 7-2 vote, was announced Jan. 22, 1973, American women have had IO million lawful abortions. In recent years, the rate has been one abortion for every three births.
Statistical studies indicate that before 1973, American women underwent 200,000 to I million illegal abortions annually.
The rancorous legal and moral debate over the issue continues unabated a decade later — in church pulpits, editorial pages, the halls of Congress, even in the White House Oval Office.
Letters by the tens of thousands, more than the Supreme Court has gotten on any decision before or since, have descended on the justices. Most of them are critical, and most are addressed to Blackmun.
He still gets eight or IO letters a day and, ignoring the advice of his colleagues, he reads them all. Blackmun says he’s been called a "Butcher of Dachau,” a “Pontius Pilate,” a "King Herod” who murders innocent babes.
Blackmun told a television interviewer in 1974 that the decision he wrote "will be regarded as one of the worst mistakes in the court’s history or one of its great decisions, a turning point.” He never doubted it would be highly controversial.
He added, somewhat ruefully, “We all
pick up tags. I’ll carry this one to my grave.”
Janet Benshoof, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said it was the most important decision in Supreme Court history for women. "They no longer are criminals for controlling their own reproduction,” she said.
On the other side — the "pro-life” side — is Nellie Gray. She has organized a Jan. 22 march on Washington every year since 1974 to protest the decision. "It’s murder, pure and simple,” she said. "Abortion means killing babies.”
Blackmun’s opinion, in 52 pages with 67 footnotes, focused on a woman’s constitutional right to privacy. He said that included the right to end an unwanted pregnancy.
The opinion acknowledged, at the same time, that states have legitimate interests in protecting health and "potential life.”
To balance those competing state and individual interests, Blackmun crafted a remarkable formula that reflected his background as an honors student in mathematics at Harvard University and chief counsel for the Mayo Clinic, the renowned medical center at Rochester, Minn.
The formula embodied in his opinion was this:
A woman’s decision to have an abortion in the first three months of her pregnancy — must be left to her and her doctor. The states can require only that medical procedures be carried out by a licensed physician.
The states may interfere, through varying forms of regulation, to protect a woman’s health only in the second trimester of pregnancy. They may not take steps to protect the life of the fetus until the final three months.
Justice Byron R. White, in a dissenting opinion for himself and Justice William H. Rehnquist, said: “The court simply
fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers and,
with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invests that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes.”
Anti-abortion forces thus far have failed in their attempts to undo the 1973 decision. Two measures aimed at achieving that goal — one by amending the Constitution and the other by declaring a fetus a "person” — have foundered in Congress.
National opinion polls indicate that most Americans support abortion rights. In an Associated Press-NBC News poll last year, 77 percent of the people responding said they agreed with the statement that "the decision to have an abortion should be left to the woman and her physician.”
If the anti-abortion movement represents a minority, however, it is a vocal and active minority that has kept the issue on the Supreme Court agenda.
A succession of cases has required the justices to decide whether proposed state and federal regulation complies with the 1973 guidelines. Each new case underscores the commitment and zeal of the people on both sides of the debate,
In trying to fine-tune their 1973 decision, the justices have since:
— Ruled that states cannot give husbands of pregnant women veto power over the abortion decision, nor can they give absolute veto power to parents of any young, unmarried girl.
— Said states have no legal obligation to pay for "non-therapeutic” abortions.
— Reaffirmed their intention to give physicians broad discretion in determining the "fetal viability,” or the time when a fetus can survive outside the mother’s womb. The states may seek to protect a fetus that has reached viability, the court said, but that determination is up to physicians and not courts or legislatures.
— Said the federal government and the states have no legal obligation to pay for even medically necessary abortions sought by women on welfare.
Lebanon contacts Syria about simultaneous troop withdrawal
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — The government opened a new round of contacts with Syria Saturday in attempts to bring about simultaneous withdrawal of Syrian and Israeli forces from this embattled Mediterranean nation.
lebanese leaders also held daylong talks with U.S. presidential envoy Philip C. Habib and his assistant, Morris Draper, on ways to accelerate withdrawal talks with Israel. Habib then shuttled back to Israel.
At the same time, Christian and Druse Moslem militiamen battled with artillery and rockets in a cluster of mountain towns east and southeast of Beirut, collapsing an Israeli-sponsored cease-fire.
There was no immediate word on casualties in the renewed fighting in the Aley and Chouf regions where more than 90 people have died in hostilities since November.
In Damascus, Syrian President Hafez Assad pledged to support Lebanon in its efforts to "regain sovereignty over its entire territory” but warned he would not allow Israel to "reap political or military gains out of its lebanon invasion.”
A government spokesman in Damascus said Assad made his position clear in a three-hour conference he held with Jean Obeid, a special envoy of Lebanese
President Amin Gemayel. Obeid traveled to the Syrian capital earlier Saturday.
"Israel must withdraw from Lebanon without achieving any gains and without dictating any conditions that would infringe on Lebanon’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Assad’s spokesman quoted him as saying.
An earlier Lebanese government statement said Lebanon was in the process of establishing contacts with Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization parallel to the withdrawal talks with Israel.
There was no word whether Obeid met with any PIX) officials during his Damascus trip. The PLO maintains between 6,000 and 10,000 guerrillas behind Syrian lines in northern and eastern Lebanon.
Thousands of other guerrillas were forced to evacuate Beirut in August, two months after Israeli forces invaded Lebanon on June 6 to smash the PLO.
On Friday, the Syrians attacked the U.S.-mediated compromise agenda that broke a three-week stalemate in the Lebanese-Israeli withdrawal talks.
The compromise listed top items to be discussed as ending the 34-year-old state of war between Israel and Lebanon and withdrawal of Israel’s invasion army.State to review nursing home
HOUSTON (AP) — Texas Department of Human Resources officials are studying an agreement that allowed a Texas City nursing home to plead no contest to involuntary manslaughter in the death of a patient and will decide whether a contract with the owners should be revoked.
But an attorney for the Autumn Hills Convalescent Centers Inc. of Houston called the review "ludicrous.”
Roy Westerfield, the department’s deputy commissioner for programs, said staff attorneys were examining the contents of the plea bargain and would decide if the contract should be withdrawn.
“We expect within a few days to have a recommendation to the commissioner,” Westerfield said. “To my knowledge, we’ve never had a case of this particular nature before.”
If the commission withdraws its contract, Westerfield said, the Autumn Hills corporation could not care for patients whose care is subsidized by Medicaid funds.
Austin lawyer Roy Minton, who represented Autumn Hills in the plea bargain, said it would be "ludicrous.”
"I think all they’re going to do is get themselves in federal court,” Minton said.
Autumn Hills pleaded no contest Dec. 27 to one count of involuntary manslaughter in the 1978 death of a patient and paid $100,000, plus $66 in court costs, to Galveston County.
In exchange, the state dismissed 38 murder indictments returned against the corporation and eight former and current employees in connection with the deaths of eight patients in 1978 and 1979.
Visiting State District Judge I^arry Gist approved the proposal to allow the corporation to plead no contest to the involuntary manslaughter charge.
Gist deferred a final judgment for IO years, however, saying he planned to monitor the corporation’s activities during that period.
Parachutist dies in filming
CALIFORNIA CITY, Calif. (AP) - The death of a skydiver during filming of a movie about the original NASA astronauts will not affect the project’s completion, a film executive said Saturday.
The skydiver, Joseph Svec, 35, of Houston, died Friday when his parachute failed to open during the last shot for the movie, "The Right Stuff.” The remainder of the film based upon Tom Wolfe’s book had been finished since October, said Alan Ladd Jr., president of the Ladd Company.
"The movie is basically completed thready,” Ladd said, adding that he didn’t think it would be necessary to re-shoot the icene in which Svec died.
Ladd, speaking by telephone from San Francisco, said the movie will be released by Warner Bros. as scheduled In October. It stars Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Dennis Quaid and Barbara Hershey.
Svec’s parachute apparently failed during a leap from 10,500 feet above the Mojave Desert near Edwards Air Force Base, about 120 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
The scene called for Svec to tumble out of control down to 4,000 feet and then deploy his parachute as a skydiving partner filmed the scene, according to Bob Phelps, manager of the California City Airport. But at 4,000 feet, neither parachute opened.
Phelps, who also is a skydiving trainer and a parachute rigger, had said Friday that Svec’s main and reserve parachutes appeared to be okay when inspected after the tragedy.
The scene was to be a re-enactment of an actual incident in which famed test pilot Chuck Yeager bailed out of a plane with his helmet on fire.
Phelps said a smoke device attached to Svec’s helmet had failed, but Svec appeared to be conscious during the fatal faU.
Ladd said Saturday authorities still did not know the cause of the accident.
Svec was an officer in the U.S. Parachute Association with more than 2,000 jumps. He was not a movie stuntman.
Last July 23, actor Vie Morrow and two southeast Asian children were killed during filming of a fiery Vietnam war sequence on the "Twilight Zone” movie. A low-flying helicopter was crippled by special-effects explosions and crashed atop them about 60 miles north of Los Angeles.
That film, co-produced by Steven Spielberg and John Landis, also was to be distributed by Warner Bros.
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